Good morning from Augusta. The House will be discussing a proposal to add a 3 percent tax on incomes over $200,000 today and whether constitutional officers should be elected by a popular vote as lawmakers try to finish as much work as possible before tomorrow.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I figured it would take 10 days. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong but they didn’t,” said Nick Nieuwkerk, about how he and his father piloted an old 44-foot fishing boat from Nova Scotia to Portland so they could rehabilitate it in time for monkfish season. “I don’t know how, but we got her home.”
What we’re watching today
Only a few states have instituted similar bonuses for unemployed workers who take jobs while leaving federal unemployment benefits in place. Gov. Janet Mills’ Monday announcement of a new program to give bonuses to unemployed workers who get jobs paying less than $25 hourly. Those who take new jobs in June will get $1,500 and the benefit will go down to $1,000 for all of July. As many as 7,500 people could get the bonuses.
The program, which will be funded by $10 million in federal stimulus money, is the latest effort in a great national experiment about how to address the late-pandemic labor shortage. In April, there were a record-high 9 million open jobs in the U.S. In Maine, a shortage in the hospitality sector threatens to derail prospects of a return to normal.
Republican-led states have begun to wind down the extra $300 in weekly benefits provided by Congress in the latest stimulus package. Some of those states, including New Hampshire, have also instituted back-to-work bonuses for newly employed workers. Maine joins Connecticut and Colorado in not winding down the benefits while putting lump-sum bonuses in place.
While the extra unemployment has received much of the blame for the shortage from Republicans and businesses, it’s unclear exactly how much blame it should shoulder. Economists Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III recently noted the benefits can give people more leeway to take jobs they want, but they also can slow employment growth. A recent survey of unemployed workers found wage and virus concerns, plus child care challenges.
In Maine, Republicans have argued the extra $300 in weekly benefits provided by Congress in the latest stimulus package has disincentivized people from returning to work. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, had proposed a bill to end the additional benefits in May, but it was shot down by a panel of legislative leaders.
The conservative Maine Policy Institute welcomed the program in a statement, but encouraged Mills to wind the extra benefits down. Republican lawmakers have been more critical, with Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn framing the program as an insult to people who have been on the job. It remains to be seen whether it can jumpstart job growth.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Senate narrowly votes to close Maine’s youth prison,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The proposal to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center is one of criminal justice reform advocates’ top priorities. It comes as the population of the youth prison has slid in recent years, with fewer than 30 children currently incarcerated. Supporters of the closing have argued it is too expensive and that children would be better served in community settings. If passed, the funding for the center would be diverted to reintegration services and the state would need to come up with a plan by the end of this year to close the center by 2023.”
A bill to close Maine’s police information-gathering center fared poorly in the Senate after an initial positive vote in the House. The 29-6 vote against the effort to defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center likely spells doom for the bill, as such a margin seems insurmountable. Both bills overcame poor committee votes to pass through the House, but neither saw a two-thirds support in either chamber, meaning supporters currently lack the votes to sustain a potential Mills veto.
— “All Bangor police officers will now be wearing body cameras,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “The council began talking about outfitting officers with cameras nearly three years ago, with the goal of building more trust between police and citizens. The initiative was delayed so city officials could develop a policy to ensure citizens’ privacy would not be violated if caught on video. That policy has been in place since early 2019 but funding was not approved until last year.”
— “Northern Light plans overhauls at half of its 10 hospitals,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “After more than a year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, including treating patients as the virus surged in the winter of 2021 and opening mass vaccination sites in the spring, Northern Light is applying many of the lessons it learned during the pandemic to the building overhauls, including the need for patient privacy and expanded digital health care capabilities.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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